LEADING RETAIL CEOS AND INDUSTRY BODIES URGE PM TO ACT ON VIOLENCE AND ABUSE AGAINST SHOP WORKERS

20 September 2020

• ACS, Aldi, Asda, BIRA, Boots, BRC, Central England Co-op, Co-op, Dixons Carphone, Homebase, Lidl GB, Marks and Spencer, Mid Counties Co-operative, McColl’s, Morrisons, Nationwide, NISA, NFRN, Sainsbury’s, Southern Co-op, Street Works UK, Tesco and WH Smith have all signed letter to Boris Johnson pushing for legislative change

CEOs from 23 major British retailers and the sector’s leading industry bodies have joined forces in writing to the Prime Minister to ask him to provide effective legal protection for shop workers in the face of increasing levels of abuse and violence.

The move comes in the week that Alex Norris MP is due to get a second reading of his private members bill – Assaults on Retail Workers – this Friday, 25th September.

The bill, which the Co-op has been heavily supporting for the last two years as part of its own campaign to tackle retail violence, calls upon the Government to create a new offence which would carry higher penalties for those that abuse or attack shop workers when they are trying to enforce the law on age-restricted sales.

In the letter, the conglomerate of retail bosses – who collectively employ over 1.25 million shop workers – state:

“In partnership with our colleagues on the front-line, with USDAW and with a cross-party coalition of MPs, we support Alex Norris’ Private Members Bill to provide that greater protection for our colleagues.

“This united response from business leaders, trade unions and frontline workers should demonstrate the need for these additional protections. We believe there is a clear and broad-based consensus behind this Bill, and we ask that the Government acts now to support this important Bill and find time for it to pass through Parliament.”

The British Retail Consortium’s 2020 retail crime survey showed that over 400 retail workers face violence and abuse in the workplace every day, with the incidents often the result of staff challenging shoplifters, or more recently, due to them trying to implement coronavirus safety measures. Meanwhile, a 2020 crime report from the Association of Convenience stores found that a quarter of violence incidents resulted in injury, with a weapon used in almost 20% of occurrences. A knife was the most commonly used weapon (43%) with axes, hammers and syringes used to attack or threaten shopworkers.

Retailers are spending a record £1.2 billion on crime prevention measures to keep their colleagues safe but are now calling on the Government to play their part.

• Jo Whitfield, CEO, Co-op Food, said: “Our nation’s shop workers are heroes and as important key workers they have played a vital role in providing communities across the country with access to food, household goods, financial services, prescriptions and medication all the way through lockdown. It is simply not part of their job to face a torrent of verbal or physical abuse and we want the Government to do their bit in introducing legislation that will make shop workers feel safer when they go to work.”

• James Lowman, CEO, Association of Convenience Stores, said: “Local shops play a crucial role in the communities that they operate in and this has been particularly evident during the coronavirus crisis as many customers turned to their local shop in order to feed their families and access essential services. Since the start of the outbreak, many shopworkers have been faced with an increase in violent and abusive behaviour and these incidents can have significant and lifelong effects on the individual’s professional and personal life. It is vital that the Government takes urgent and effective action to protect our colleagues and send a clear message to perpetrators that violent and abusive behaviour towards shopworkers is never acceptable and will not be tolerated.” • Giles Hurley, CEO, Aldi UK and Ireland, said: “Retail workers have been heroic during the pandemic by keeping the nation fed and customers safe. They deserve greater support and protection from the unacceptable behaviour of a small minority of shoppers. We hope the Government act decisively in bringing forward legislation that will send a clear and powerful message of support for the millions of people that work in this vital part of our economy.”

• Andrew Goodacre, CEO, British Independent Retail Association, said: “Bira members have become increasingly concerned by the increase in abuse aimed at retail employees and owners, and unfortunately the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the problem. Independent retailers cannot afford extra security staff and so we need the relevant authorities to take this issue seriously and protect the people who have more than played their role in supporting their local communities throughout this current crisis.”

• Helen Dickinson OBE, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “It is completely unacceptable for anyone to go to work fearing threats and violence, but regrettably, there are over 400 such incidents against retail workers which take place every day. This is despite retailers spending a record £1.2 billion on crime prevention, and yet the number of incidents has risen as retail employees implement coronavirus safety measures. The BRC has long called for the Government to take decisive action; we want a specific criminal offence put into legislation to ensure those who assault retail workers face the full force of the law and make staff feel better protected.”

• Debbie Robinson, CEO, Central England Co-op, said: “Stronger laws and punishments are needed for criminals who feel that it is acceptable to target shop workers in these types of brutal and appalling ways. While we continue to campaign for more to be done, we also want to send a message to would-be criminals. We have a zero tolerance approach to any kind of crime and, if you still want to commit a crime, we will work around the clock with local police forces to bring you to justice in an effort to keep our colleagues and customers safe.”

• Damian McLoughlin, CEO, Homebase, said: “While the vast majority of our customers have adhered to the safety measures we have in store, a small minority of shoppers continue to disobey the guidelines set out and at times react abusively when challenged by store teams. It’s for this reason why we’re joining the call for the Government to pass the private members bill, to clamp down on the few that continue to abuse and even endanger our team members, and to ultimately create a safe more enjoyable shopping environment for everyone.”

• Christian Härtnagel, CEO, Lidl GB, said: “Our teams have been doing a phenomenal job keeping stores open and fully stocked during these exceptional circumstances. Despite their pivotal role in feeding the nation, it is an upsetting reality that retail workers are having to deal with abusive or violent behaviour on a daily basis. Everyone deserves to go to work free from fear therefore it is vital that greater protections are introduced to tackle this increasingly pressing issue.”

• Jonathan Miller, Chief Executive of McColl’s Retail Group, said: “It is unacceptable that shop workers, who have been working incredibly hard to support customers in such a challenging environment following the COVID-19 outbreak, should be subject to any form of abuse. Ensuring the safety of our colleagues is paramount and we urge the Government to provide effective legal protection for all retail shop workers.”

• Phil Ponsonby, Group Chief Executive, The Midcounties Co-operative, which operates over 230 food stores, said: “While we know that the vast majority of people recognise the importance of retail workers, and the service they provide to local communities, the levels of abuse and violence directed towards those colleagues across the retail sector continues to rise. There is a clear need for more effective legislation to increase the level of protection for those workers, and we join many other retailers and Usdaw in urging the Government to support Alex Norris’ bill.”

• Joe Garner, CEO, Nationwide Building Society, said: “This is a challenging time for very many people but that does not justify being rude or abusive. While the vast majority have been amazingly kind and understanding through this time, we’ve seen a noticeable increase in the amount of aggressive behaviour from a small minority of people. As a building society we believe in mutual respect, but backed up by new legislation that sends a clear signal to those who seek to cause harm.”

• Ken Towle, CEO, Nisa Retail, said: “I’m extremely proud of tremendous lengths Nisa’s independent retailers went to in ensuring the communities they serve across the country had access to the products and support services they needed as the nation faced into the challenges of COVID-19. As valuable members of their communities they did all of this to care for the needs of their customers and it is absolutely wrong that they should be targeted with verbal and physical aggression. We call on Government to help protect our retailers by introducing legislation that will make them feel safer in the work place.”

• Stuart Reddish, National President, NFRN, said: “I get calls from hundreds of retailers who are crime victims. The impact of retail crime can be devastating and long-lasting – not just in terms of physical injuries but on anxiety and stress too. The government has to act and tackle retail crime once and for all so everyone working in shops have confidence in their workplace and that should a crime incident occur they will receive the response and protection from the government, police and justice system that they deserve.”

• Simon Roberts, CEO, Sainsbury’s said, “Everybody has the right to feel safe at work. Our store colleagues play an extraordinary role in serving and feeding our nation and it is vital that we work together as an industry and with Government to protect them.”

• Mark Smith, CEO, Southern Co-op which operates over 200 stores in 11 counties across the south, said: "If we all play our part and we all work together then we can stop this wave of violence which has been getting worse over the last few years. Our stores have faced relentless crime which we aren't able to tackle alone. We need politicians, police and the rest of society to remember these crimes are not victimless and affect real people."

• Clive Bairsto CBE, CEO, Street Works UK, said: “While COVID-19 continues to have a profound impact on the way we conduct our daily and working lives, the vital work of all key workers has come into the spotlight. In the utility sector, I’m especially proud of the way in which our key workers have worked tirelessly to keep the lights on; gas running; water flowing and households online. I am therefore pleased to support this campaign and the Bill proposed by Alex Norris MP as in these uncertain times, workers should not go to work in fear of abuse and violence.”

• Jason Tarry, CEO, Tesco UK & ROI, said: “Every day, our colleagues and other shopworkers work hard to serve customers, even in the most challenging circumstances. The rising levels of abuse, violence and aggression they face is unacceptable. We urge the Government to support this important bill and strengthen the law to protect retail workers.”

ENDS

Full list of signatories:

  1. Jo Whitfield, CEO, Co-op Food
  2. James Lowman, CEO, Association of Convenience Stores
  3. Giles Hurley, CEO, Aldi
  4. Roger Burnley, CEO, Asda
  5. Sebastian James, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Boots
  6. Andrew Goodacre, CEO, British Independent Retailers Association
  7. Helen Dickinson, CEO, British Retail Consortium
  8. Debbie Robinson, CEO, Central England Co-op
  9. Alex Baldock, CEO, Dixons Carphone
  10. Damian McGloughlin, CEO, Homebase
  11. Christian Härtnagel, CEO, Lidl GB,
  12. Steve Rowe, CEO, Marks and Spencer
  13. Jonathan Miller, CEO, McColl’s
  14. Phil Ponsonby, CEO, The Midcounties Co-operative
  15. David Potts, CEO, Morrisons
  16. Joe Garner, CEO, Nationwide
  17. Stuart Reddish, National President, National Federation for Retail Newsagents
  18. Ken Towle, CEO, Nisa Retail
  19. Simon Roberts, CEO, Sainsbury’s
  20. Mark Smith, CEO, Southern Co-op
  21. Clive Bairsto CBE, CEO, Street Works UK
  22. Jason Tarry, CEO, Tesco UK and ROI
  23. Carl Cowling, Group Chief Executive, WHSmith